Post #51: Filmstrips

IMG_8678Filmstrips

A casual flick and the lights snap off. A thrilling zing pings through the darkened room, passing through each of us like jittery kernels hitting the hot oil. The machine whirrs, the sprockets spin, the audio crackles invitingly, black and white images flicker and blur on the screen in the front of the room. We are ready, so ready! The filmstrip is about to start. We are rapt and enraptured primed to sit tight and watch straight through from beginning to end.

Well of course. That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it?

***

Scene 1: SRA

Brandishing jump ropes, the girls gather in tight little gaggles on the playground, their eyes hooded, arms folded identically tight. I circle like a hungry sparrow, swooping down by the teetertotters, sweeping around the swings, up to the monkey bars searching and searching for a few crumbs, a place to roost.   Finally I slip back to the empty classroom and take a seat. A deep breath and I dive right in: The SRA Reading Box. I am up to Silver, already, I am the only one! I start reading and in a moment the ugly florescent lights, the ridiculous yet scary duck and cover drills, the hardened faces of the girls fade away. Only one more level to the very top, on to Gold!

Scene 2: Nothing Revealed

Chalk clutched in her manicured fingers, Miss Borocks floats to the board, and with a flowing, florid script maps out the assignment:

“Write about your deepest fear.”

She smiles beatifically on the class, her eyes hovering on me as she mentions (again) that both she and I are left handed. We are the only ones.   She dots her “i” s with tiny hearts. I do not do that, I will not do that, I cannot believe anyone would do that. Ever.

I am not actually certain what my deepest fear is, but if I knew it I certainly was not about to write it in an essay for Miss Borocks.

So I return home and write an essay about fearing to write this essay, pouring over the dictionary to squeeze in as many obscure words as possible, sweating to make the essay unreadable in class. Please don’t read this in class.

Aha! I have revealed NOTHING! At least I don’t think I have.

Scene 3: Spring and Fall

I am curled up happily in hardbacked booth at Drake’s, Russian Caravan Tea unsipped and a grilled cinnamon roll untouched on my tray, my eyes prancing over the pages of poetry. I am reading Hopkins. Only the top of my mussed dark head is visible, but that’s enough:   I am spotted. Red-headed Mr. Kenworthy, my English professor, is hovering smilingly, tray in hand.

“May I join you?”

I nod nervously and my eyes dart back to my book but that’s it, I can’t read anything any more.

He squeezes into the booth and starts straighten his papers.   “You’re reading Hopkins,” he says, squinting at the title. Do you have a favorite?”

I do, of course. I love Spring and Fall.   I wonder if I’ve made a good choice.

 

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

 

“What do you think of it?” he asks. He is drinking Russian Caravan as well.

I catch my breath then speak in all a rush, “It’s not simply about a child missing the beauty of the fall leaves, or about the loss of innocence, it’s that devastating last line: ‘It is Margaret you mourn for,’ it feels selfish to me. The little girl is not innocent so much as selfish.”

He pauses, “That’s extraordinary. I never thought of that before. Never heard it mentioned. ” He looks at me with a new found respect.

“Well,” I continue quickly, “I studied the poem in high school.” And just as quickly, his eyes cloud over and his attention shifts elsewhere.

I cringe into my cooling cup of tea. I neglect to say that what I had noted about the Hopkins was my own insight from high school as well.

Oh, how could I?

Scene 4: Stacked

I’m here at last! Shelved on the 9th floor at 50th and Third, happily fenced in my cubicle by pile after pile of teetery first editions.   The boxes come to us, the lowly assistants, first. We see the finished books before the editors, before the writers, before everyone! Only after we’ve gorged ourselves, then do we share.

I am like voracious Saturn in the Goya, almost wishing I could greedily devour them all, page by delicious page. All for me, all for me, all for me!

Then my empty stomach rumbles—my slender wallet holds little more than subway fare.   What else to do? Oh right! Simply read and reread the cookbooks — Julia Child, Patricia Wells, Maida Heatter — ravenously, gluttonously, insatiably dreaming of dinners— paychecks—- to come.

Scene 5: The DK Pocket Books

Oh they loved them so very much. So small and compact they could hold them in their tiny hands. And so they did, carrying them everywhere, to their twin beds, to the car, to the bathtub, to the playroom, to the playground. Some pages were gritty from the sandbox, other warped from being accidentally left out in the rain. They carried them and they hugged them and they kissed them and they read them. The DK Pocket Books, from Insects to Volcanos, Dinosaurs to Earth Facts, Ancient Rome to Reptiles.

Tiny bursts of knowledge for very tiny boys. Watching them I learned more than I ever did from any book I had ever read.

***

We are primed to watch the filmstrips of our lives moving in a herky-jerky fashion forward progression, thing to thing to thing. And yet, when we flick the switch for the rewind, the film sometimes sticks. It’s blurry.   Where were we?

That’s okay. Look back more closely though and the scenes start to glow golden and gemlike as the segmented jewels of a Klimt. Refocus. Watch them again and again. Like a shaken tin box of fancy cookies, your scenes have left their frilly paper trappings and jumble together. Pick through them, taste them: they can still be sweet.   After all, they are yours to relive, rethink, reexperience, retell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post #48: Night Itself

IMG_1374You hear it first. Really, how could you miss it?

It sweeps through with the breathtaking blur of Gene Krupa’s flailing sticks badgering and barumphing at the skins, cajoling wave after wave and whoosh after whoosh of sound. Millions of tiny jubilant splashes in a muscular trill, a cacophonous drumroll of rain.

The truth is I wasn’t expecting the storm at all. As always, it was night itself I was after.

***

Drive-in Movie: 1965

it was the pajama ride of our dreams. The three of us rattled around the expanse of backseat like kernels sizzling in a popper. We had pillows but no one was going to waste time sleeping. It was just getting dark as my Dad pulled into a parking spot and fitted the receiver onto his window. We made it! The dancing hot dog on the screen said there was just enough time to get to the snack bar. Hurry, hurry, hurry! We wanted Good ’n Plenty! We wanted Milky Ways! We wanted Raisinettes! We got a box of popcorn. For the three of us. To share.   If I stood up I from my spot in the backseat I could almost see the bottom half of Mary Poppins through the front window. No, we were not going to lay out on the hood of the car like those other people.

I turned my back to the movie and instead looked out the slanted rear window. I could see the whole sky, black as licorice. There were stars. They sparkled like Sno-Caps.   My very own snack bar, my very own show.

***

Oak Park Boulevard: 1967

It was all wrong, completely wrong, totally wrong. Which of course made it feel so very right.

A quick scissor kick (I was learning to swim) and I was free of the covers. The summer darkness in the house was damp and foggy. I gingerly felt my way to my hearts desire, left conveniently on the floor. There it was! I had it.

Light sliced from the bathroom and slanted through my doorway just so. I was drawn to it like a nightgowned moth. Very carefully, very quietly I cracked it open.   Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! I loved this so much. I couldn’t wait until morning. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle had an upside down house.   You could jump over doorways! You could swing down stairs! You could sit around her chandeliers and pretend they were campfires! An upside down world where everything was just right.

Looking out at the comfort of the darkness I wished that night was day and day was night. An upside down world where everything was just right.

***

Wawa, Canada: 1972

We were not exactly roughing it, unless you consider roughing it taking an overnight on the camp bus and pitching a tarp in a local trailer park. Grudgingly we took a walk into town to forage for food, proudly procuring a few Coffee Crisps, several Mackintosh Toffees, a whole salami, and a can of Pringles. We hoarded this stash shamelessly. But it was going to be okay. We just might survive our time in the wild.

I waited until it was dark and everyone else was asleep. Silently I untwisted from my sleeping bag and crept from the bus. With small, stealthy steps I quickly made my way down the path to the lake. The dark around me was dense and verdant, packed with muffled sound. I kept my flashlight beam low. Then I snapped it off. Why would I need it? The whole sky above was massed with stars, a swirling and twirling marching band before my eyes!

No one would ever believe it. I had found Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in Wawa, Canada.

***

Dominos Pizza, Ann Arbor, 1981

He pounded furiously, stretched gently, then casually flung them into the air and then down the line. Dough after dough. Never missed!   I was the toppings girl, plunging my hands into various vats of pepperoni and onion and mushrooms as if I was playing a never ending game of Whackamole. Sausage was awful and sticky. I had to keep plunging my fists into the olive juice just so I could scrape it off my hands.   I dreamed of graduating to saucing and cheesing. But not just yet.

I got off at 2 am.  It wasn’t at all quiet. Let’s get real: here at night any night percolated with adventure! But I headed for home. My plan was to be up and out by 8 am. Because that’s the quiet time here. I grabbed it.

Had my Piggle-Wiggle dream come true?

***

Riverside Drive: 1993

They are so tiny, so very small. “I’ve bought chickens bigger than that!” someone squawked as I hurried anxiously past with the double stroller. I know. They were identically fed from droppers, one boy in my arms, his brother in a rocker. I switched their places every 15 minutes. It took over an hour to feed them, each time every time. They had to eat every three hours around the clock. They took turns sleeping but they were too small to know that there was no turn left for me. Day and night blended to charcoal.

Around the corner, Big Nick Burger lit up the dark. Everything you could wish for hot and ready 24 hours a day. I wanted it. We were, after all, in the city that never sleeps! All I had to do is get off the couch…

***

Our House: Just now

The storm itself has taken a breath but the rain continues, a ready steady strum. At last the night is what I was looking for, deep and velvety and enveloping.

There is no noise to speak of. There is so much to hear. I’m listening…

Dawn always catches me by surprise.

Post #47: The Cartographer of Malleable Memory

IMG_1854I scribbed and scrawed and scratched and scroobed. At first with those thick lavender elementary school trainer pencils, sometimes with a nothing more than a nubble of broken crayon. In flowing royal blue fountain pen ink or a smudgy stub of pencil. I dreamed of typing in a tree house but instead I scribbled in backseats or on busses, while wedged behind a fliptop schoolhouse desk or hunched over a sticky kitchen table.

Like Livingston on a lifelong safari, I am off to capture the prize.

My middle finger is marked by a callous from gripping the pencil so earnestly, even desperately, my hands are forever stained with ink. Scraps of paper, half finished notebooks, missives tucked into books. Tantalizing clues and ciphers and keys! All for me.

The cartographer of malleable memory, I am making a map.

***

BRAVE: Oak Park Boulevard

Ah ha! Nobody is watching. My moment has come. I kick my tennis shoes off into the summer grass and gingerly ease my feet onto the hot sidewalk. I am expecting a sizzle but it doesn’t happen. Step by step by step. I can do it! Like the firewalkers that boldly skitter over hot coals I am brave enough to walk the fiery pavements of Oak Park Boulevard with my bare feet! But even so I make certain to step carefully over every single crack. Because I love my mother very much.

***

AWAY: Hudson’s Department Store

Like a moveable steel Everest it loomed imploringly before me.   Each step rising up and up and up and then somehow folding away into some mysterious and inviting heavenly realm. Where did it go, where did it lead? I had no idea. All it took was just one tiny step and I was on my way, lofted upwards on a moveable stairway to adventure! As my mother turns I wave and then, in an instant, I am out of sight.

***

BEAUTY: The Beauty Parlor near Coolidge

It’s Friday and all the ladies are there ready to be made behived and beautiful. With enough hairspray the hairdo will last for the whole week. Each lady swathed in a plastic apron, they face their mirrors without ever making faces, and they sit in chairs that spin without ever spinning wildly. How do they do it? The air is thick with chatter and cumulous clouds of hairspray. But if we are quiet, there is a quarter for each of us.

In the corner, in the back is the Soda Machine! My sisters and I stand transfixed. Red Pop or Orange or Rock n Rye?

I am the oldest so I already know which is best. Without hesitation I drop in my quarter and twist the dial. In a moment a tall bottle of Faygo Grape is in my hand.

I swig right from the bottle and I think maybe that being made beautiful just might be worth it.

***

VICTORY: Camp Walden, Girls 9

High noon on a sunny day. We are inside, of course. That’s where the real action is. The floors are hard and swept and smooth.   You could bounce a quarter off my hospital-cornered bunk. I know. I tried. I am toe to toe with my halter-topped, feathered-haired adversary. I’ve got this. Then with one practiced hand I knock the jacks into a perfect arc and with the other I flourish the ball in the air. My left hand sweeps through the maze and in a flash it’s all over.   I am the official jacks champion of Girls 9.

***

WELCOME: Kingswood

The Oldsmobile pulls around the circle. I get out and the car pulls away. I am here. Knee socks and loafers, pale blue blouse and a brown jumper with pockets. I desperately need the pockets, where else can I put my nervous hands? I walk up the steps and pull open the doors. I am in the Green Lobby, a simple name for a space so exquisitely beautiful no fancy words could hope to ever do it justice. My heart skips a beat and then it almost explodes from my chest. How can this be?  How can you come home to a place you’ve never been to before? But I have. At that moment I know part of me will never leave. Or perhaps it is that this wonderful place will never really leave me.

***

BELONG: Carnegie Deli, New York City

Sunday morning, 8 AM, Seventh Avenue. The doors of Carnegie Deli are unlocked before my eyes. Where are the crowds? I cannot figure out where everyone is. Don’t all real New Yorkers rush out at pre dawn hours on Sunday mornings?

I sit uncomfortably on a bentwood chairs at one of the long tables and I wrestle with a menu that is as massive as the Ruben’s Triptych.   Pen and pad in hand the bow-tied, black-jacketed waiter is waiting. And waiting.

I panic. So I order the first things that come into my head.

In a few moments he places a warm baked apple and hunk of Russian Coffee Cake in front of me.   I take a few bites and I start to relax at last. It is very good.

When I look up to pay my bill three other people have ordered exactly the same thing.

I have done it. I belong.

***

SEALED: Haagen-Dazs, The Upper West Side

We stood there together, our noses pressed against the glass case. I hardly knew him. So will it be chocolate or mint chip or strawberry or mango? Rum raisin or butterscotch or fudge Ripple or plain vanilla? Cup or a cone? Sprinkles or sauce? Can an ice cream choice define you? Of course it can.

“I’d like an egg cream,” I said. His eyes, behind his round tortoise shell glasses, were wide.   “That’s amazing,” he said. “Me too.”   The kiss, and the life together that follows, is especially sweet.

***

JOY: Riverdale, 16th floor

The identical little people in identical pajamas were so small they couldn’t stand for more than a few seconds without toppling over onto each other. That didn’t matter. They fell down they got up, they fell down they got up again. And they laughed, a rich and rollicking and rolling laugh that blended into a jazz trumpet duet that would have knocked Old Satchmo, Louis Armstrong himself, back on his heels. My oh my!

We never got the joke. Just the joy.

***

MEMORY LANE: Around the corner

He traveled that route like a tiny King in a Yankee cap. Perched proudly in his green wagon he had the presence and bearing of Caesar himself. I pulled the wagon. Down the street, around the corner and a curve through a cave of trees, back and forth day after day to take his brothers to  elementary school. It was my job, but small as he was, he was certain it was his.

Then when he was old enough, for a time he walked with them. And then, older still and the only brother left, he walked Memory Lane alone.

Except for this last time. It was his last day on this beloved path at this beloved school. He asked me to walk with him. No wagon necessary. I did. We walked the path together one more time.

And in front of everyone he held my hand.

***

For me memory isn’t solid at all but truly more like shimmery green jello. I love jello. It shifts in the light. It wobbles. It changes. Memory I think is meant to be stretched, sometimes reshuffled or perhaps rolled like dice from a cup to continuously recreate the treasure map of a happy life. Follow the dots wherever they lead again and again on a zig zagged path to happiness.

.

 

Post #46: Windows

IMG_3637Early Morning: Michigan

Up the stairs, first room to the right. You’re there.  A perfect little shoebox of a room. So small you can stand in the middle and almost touch all four walls. A tousled bed, the floor a comfy nest of sweaters and board games and books. Harriet the Spy and Eloise always invitingly on the top layer.

Little Miss No Name, with her ragged dress and removable tear, sits reproachfully in a corner. I whisked her away from the commercial where she was barefoot in the snow and selling matches, but I can’t love her.

TV Guide has been thoroughly scanned and circled in excited anticipation of a Sunday afternoon or late night rendezvous with Bette Davis, Fred Astaire or Judy Garland.

It’s still dark. I wedge myself in the tiny space between the bureau and the wall and wait. Gold-rimmed glasses crooked on my nose, my eyes are just level with the windowsill. I look out and there it is.   With a wave of warmth, the sunlight rolls into the sky.

***

Morning: Queens, New York

The plane banks steeply and all of a sudden there it is! Like a platter of delicious canapés, the buildings are close to enough to reach out and grab. I want them so badly, I want them all. Lorenz Hart’s “Isle of joy” spilling out into my arms as I reach for my suitcase.

I’m finally here.

On the taxi ride in I make note of all the dry cleaners on 2nd Avenue. Just in case.

First day, first job, The Random House building at Third Avenue and 50th Street. Terrified of being late, I am instead, hours early. I creep around the corner and anchor myself at a coffee shop counter for an unwanted second breakfast. Finally it’s almost time to go. But as I attempt to fold The New York Times like a native, the stool spins and suddenly my half finished bagel sprouts wings, only to crash land buttered side down in the middle of my lap.

With twenty minutes to go, no dry cleaner in the world can save me now. But I am in New York, home of magic and dreams! One hundred and eighty degree turn and I land in the opulent, lilac scented Waldorf Astoria ladies room, fully armed with a newly purchased can of K2R Spot Remover.

Moments before 9 am I am ready, peering anxiously through the glass windows of one of the most storied publishing houses of all.

I am so afraid. But I’ve arrived.

***

Lunchtime: Manhattan

There are no windows on the 8th floor where I work, glamorously huddled before my typewriter tapping out Knopf’s royal blue labels and serious correspondence on thick, buttery sheets of paper. The Xerox machine and I are on very intimate terms. The halls are filled with nervous heroes: Julia Child, Placido Domingo,  Joseph Heller. We never knew who those elevator doors would part to reveal.  But their well-known faces are uniformly anxious: all confidence rests completely with their quirky and self-possessed red-pen wielding editors. Everyone knows true immortality rests on the printed page.

Alone, I squeeze in for a concrete seat in a vest pocket park, and unwrap a sandwich. Talk swarms through the air, clouding the tiny space but none of it comes from me. There is no one to talk to. Doesn’t matter. I have a plan! Later I will swing through the revolving doors with a forward P and a backward P and enter the “lobby which is enormously large with marble pillars and ladies in it.” I will go everywhere and do everything because, as Eloise intones, “Oh my Lord, there is so much to do. Tomorrow I think I’ll pour a pitcher of water down the mail chute.”

Oh I wish I could!

As I slowly return to my cubicle I can just see the sun reflecting from the windows, cutting through the buildings.

***

Late Afternoon: Riverdale, The Bronx

If you lean in tight and crane your neck just so you can almost see the edge of my Broadway Boogie Woogie in the distance, as it continues to percolate through the jungle gym of Manhattan. But I know it’s far away. Every day it feels so much further. As if we are now on another planet.

Pay attention! The better view is straight across through the vast open windows of the sixteenth floor. The Hudson churns by and over on the other side New Jersey actually looks welcoming and green, just like they always promise.

Laundry Mountain has been ascended, Sesame Street is over, the scooter race down the hall completed, the pile of books have been read and read and read once more. Night is coming.   I pluck the two tiny boys from their spinning Dizzy Discs. And together we look out the big window.

“Ah,” they point and sigh and sing, “The moon! The moooooon! The mooooooooon!”

It shines through the window on all of us. Our faces glow.

***

Early Evening: Westchester

Determinedly I grip the wheel, eyes on the road. I drive hither and thither, catapulting from parking structure to parking lot, picking up, dropping off, driving this way and that. Queen of the Roads, I have a personal parking spot everywhere I go: Middle School to the Mall, Trader Joe’s to Target.

The backseat is layered like a bean and guacamole cheese dip with Lego boxes and Pokémon cards, comic books and Crazy Bones. We are ready! We have everything we need.  Now there are three little boys.

Through the window, my strong left arm is burnished a deep, dark brown.  I don’t have time to look out, but it doesn’t matter. I can still feel the sun.

**

Evening: Westchester

A beloved and happy place, all duct taped together, all full of love. Our house.  Day after day I ping pong my way through the rooms with scarcely a glance at the walls or a look out the windows. All the boys are home, safe and happy. It’s them I want to see. Let the cats commandeer the windows. They are bravely keeping watch.

Then, no matter how much I’ve prepared, when I least expect it, they have gone again. It’s quiet here. Alone, I gently take a soft cloth to the slightly smeary windows. I rub gently and peer outside. The sun is still there. I can still feel the warmth. I need it.

Through all of my windows, I look out to look in.

 

 

 

 

 

Post #44: For Safekeeping

FullSizeRender (3)

I should have done it ages ago. But I wouldn’t and I couldn’t. Tattered copies of Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World crammed between Mrs. Dalloway and The Aenid. The lumpy lovingly handmade paper mache cat perched next to a Nambe bowl. A bubble wand safely stored with the Wedgewood. The Kindergarten art elementary art show winner displayed with the same pride as the Audubon print. My world is swirled with touch points of memory wherever I look. I’ve kept it all very close.

We tend to think of memory as a snapshot in time, don’t we? We tell ourselves the same soothing, wonderful stories again and again. We need them, we need them so badly as every day we’re carried further and further way from points in time.

With rising panic we keep reaching back and back, our vision blurring into the distance. We could forget! What if we forget? And then what?

*a flattened box of Maizecorn tucked into the bookshelf from the first game at The Big House we attended all together.

*Three individual copies of Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs (one for each), a book read so many times that the two of us were certain the text was stamped into our being for all eternity.

*a very small pair of thick-lensed, gold-rimmed spectacles, for one who was squinty and bookish even in third grade.

*The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, Hot Wheels version.

*A gallon-sized jug of green Tabasco Sauce, long finished.

*a golden bowl, filled to the brim with yellowing paper fortunes.

On a whim, I dig all the way to the bottom. And they are still there.

***

On Sunday night we are all together at a Chinese restaurant like days of old. Plates of steamed dumplings, sizzling platters of exotic vegetables, mound after mound of white rice. Everything but fortune cookies.

When they were very small it was a conceit of mine that whatever they would ask for I would be able to pull magician like from my bag, as If I were always ready to be an audience member for Let’s Make a Deal. Playing cards, tiny cars, bagels, you name it. I was always prepared.

Once more, for the sake of memory. From my bag I brought out their very first fortune cookie fortunes, decades old, carefully marked with their names and the year.

If I think back in time I can no longer remember what they were wearing or what the weather was like or what was on TV the nights they first opened those cookies. But I wonder, what if memory is meant to be malleable, less like a snapshot and more like a Cezanne, the image diffuse and changeable and endlessly lovely?

I can’t remember back clearly so many years. But do know the looks of surprise and love on their faces when they each slipped those old fortunes into their wallets. For safe keeping, of course.

 

 

 

 

Post #43: The Pulse of Souls

IMG_2105Long ago

The streets and sidewalks were still damp and puddly from the nighttime rain. I edge out of the house and gingerly step down the drive. The street is shiny and wet.    I don’t look around. I look down. The milky, early morning sun is warm. It’s going to be hot. I have plenty of time to get to school. It doesn’t matter. I am going to be late.

I’m going to save them all.

And I try. Over and over I bend over to scoop their slithery, writhing little selves off the quickly drying pavement and onto the cool grass so they can burrow back into the earth. I can’t make heads or tails of them!  But I don’t feel triumphant as they slide off my fingers into safety. I fuss and I worry. Am I putting them back in the right place so they can find their families?

***

Last Week

Anxious, overwhelmed, fussed, I am way in the back, slumped in a seat, shrinking away from the crowd that surrounds me.   They are all looking up. I should be looking up. I should be but I just can’t. Instead I look down. A tiny speck.  A solitary ant, boldly and stealthily making his way across the floor. The brave advance guard! All alone.

Like the self-important Florence Nightingale of the insect world, I turn to rummage for a scrap of paper intent on scooping the tiny thing up and winging him to safety and freedom out into the sunlight.

But when I turn he’s been crushed. As am I.

***

In Between

There is a lot of in between here. I wonder, moving so fast for so long, what other small marvels have I arrogantly and short-sightedly overlooked? How much have I missed?

 

***

Last Night

I flit by here all the time. A quick glance out the car window, a heartbeat’s worth of appreciation, and my eyes are back firmly on the road, I’m zooming on my way. But tonight is different. Tonight I stop. Slowly I make my way down to the pond. And I sit.

I tap my foot nervously. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! I jitter and sneak glances at my watch.  What am I waiting for exactly? To be instantly embraced by the rhythms of nature? To have all secrets revealed?

The pond, surrounded by delicate trees and brushed by soft flowers, is down a gentle slope next to the library. It’s bordered by roads and as I sit I’m enveloped not by the spark of nature but buffeted by the whoosh of the engines as cars careen wildly around the corners. I can’t think.

If the steely-eyed drivers bother to glance out their windows as they roar past, they will see me sitting there. A tiny speck. Alone. I shift uncomfortably.

I won’t stay. Instead I make my way back up the path and to the library. The great indoors: my own Elysium. I enter and I am at once embraced by a cloud of quiet.

It’s here that I feel safe. Blanketed by thought, soothed by words, I find the peace that I’m longing for. It’s here that I can, for a few moments at least, just allow thought to wash over me like a salve.  Here, if I listen very closely, I can even feel the pulse of souls, both large and small.

And it is here, finally, that by myself I chide myself gently for what I have for so long forgotten to notice. And it’s here that I can too remind myself that there is always so much to see if I make the effort

to look up

and around

and always down.

 

POST#41: A SLICE (OR TWO) OF CAKE

IMG_1680There they all are, lined up on the banquet table of my life, in the sumptuous buffet of memory. Carefully placed, one after the other, row after delicious row. Cake after cake after cake.

The endearingly homely homemade ones, baked with love, meant to be mashed by jubilant infant fists.

The years of “the best idea ever” Baskin & Robbins ice cream cakes, Mint Chocolate Chip or Jamoca Almond Fudge or Pralines n’ Cream wrapped by a roll of chocolate cake. Sweet gooey slices melting on the plate.

Fancy bakery cakes, festooned with butter cream roses, dotted with sugared violets, scattered with piped green ivy, more longed for, and sometimes more fought for, than the slightly stale layers of the cakes themselves.

A birthday masquerade on the cake stand: cinnamon or chocolate coffee cakes. They perch there uncomfortably and rather ridiculously, porcupined full of candles. Everyone is holding out their plates, dutifully waiting for their slices, silently wishing for chocolate layer or maybe a nice strawberry butter cream instead.

For years a succession of earnest and sprouty carrot cakes were demanded and dutifully served up.   Some were beguiled with their vague notions of healthfulness. Others quietly revolted and later opted for Carvel cones.

Finally, befitting the dignity of the passing years, comes the succession of the stately lemon cocoanuts, ethereal as the clouds themselves, the taste a perfect blend of the sweetness and tang of life itself.

I can see them all, lining the long tables of my memory. All candles blazing, anticipation and hope emitting from each and every cake.

I come from a place where birthday cake is always served for breakfast. That way there is also time for cake for lunch and hopefully, cake for dinner. Candles are spent and then tucked under pillows to make certain wishes will come true. They almost always do.

It’s so simple! Cake is just wonderful. But cake, especially birthday cake, is not just meant to be eaten. It’s meant to be shared. And that’s the plan.

So here is my birthday wish for each of you:

Think of someone you love who’s far away. Think of someone you’ve perhaps loved and lost. Eat cake. But eat that slice of cake in their honor. You can pick their favorite cake or yours. It doesn’t matter. The sweet taste of cake and tang of happy times will linger on your tongue.

A slice of cake to feed the body. A sliver of memory to feed the soul.

Many happy returns to you all!

 

 

POST #39: WHAT WE DO. WHO WE ARE.

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 Lazar, Detroit, 1920

Really, no one could figure out how he did it. He was the marvel of the neighborhood. Quick and confident and proud, he never made a mistake.

He was a tiny, compact little man, wrapped in an apron. Standing tall behind the counter of his grocery store. He added every figure in his head. Every account, every transaction was there, etched clearly in his precise and ordered mind.

A very smart man. A grocery man.

A man who selflessly extended credit to his neighbors so they could bring food home to their families when times were hard.

A kind person.

***

David, Oswiecim, Poland, 1939

There he is, his chin jutting out proudly, his arm draped casually around the shoulders of his childhood friends, a bold, almost insolent grin on his face. A yellow star is crudely stitched onto his breast pocket.

Famous for his jokes (who else would have shoved the goat through the door when it opened for Elijah?) he knew the prayer book so thoroughly his hands made grip marks on the leather.

He will run away soon. They will catch him. They will hold him for five long years. The horrors were unspeakable. So he never spoke of them.

A new country and a new start.   Bent now from his suffering, but still powerfully strong, he works first as a bellhop. Then he stands for decades at a machine in a factory.

We knew he was never the same but we never knew who he’d been.

He was so very tired. But let a small child catch his eye? Radiance would spread over him that could warm the sun itself.

A kind person.

***

Erv, Chicago, 1960

No question about it, he is the coolest guy in the room. Hair brushed back, perfectly dressed. No double creases ever.

Nothing handed to him on a silver platter either. No silver spoons touch his lips. He’s been working since forever. Proud of it.

This guy truly knows how to be a friend. He’s got your back. Wait, Better than that. He’s figured out how to help everyone avoid making mistakes. He is beloved.

Don’t be fooled by the posing though. He knows how to turn a phrase. He can write poetry too.

Falsely accused, he refuses to capitulate to a bullying professor. He is denied graduation for a year. But he stands firm. He is right.

He is vindicated.

An eye doctor: he goes on to become one of the finest and most caring healthcare practitioners anywhere. Now he’s got everyone’s back.

A kind person.

***

Me, Bloomfield Hills, 1975

“She’s the smartest girl I’ve ever met. “

It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. The person who made this declaration really was smart—brilliant even. What on earth could I have said that afternoon?

I really don’t remember.

I do remember sitting and talking to him though. I didn’t know enough to make pronouncements about anything at all. If I had, I’m certain I wouldn’t have been right.

I remember talking to him. I remember listening to him. I remember a gentle and generous conversation. He was nice.

That’s all. It wasn’t hard to be kind.

And at that time, for that boy, that might have been just enough.

I’m glad.

 

Above photo by Croze, Blessing and others: from The Saarinen Door,  published by Cranbrook Academy of Art and Printed by the Cranbrook Press c 1963.

 

 

Post #38: The Tower of Nickels and Dimes

IMG_1046POCKET CHANGE: 1961

My Grandpa Lou would walk in the door. A kiss and then his hand would reach into his pocket. From his fingers would come a waterfall of coins clattering and clinking and plunking! I was too small to touch them. Too small to even know what they were for. All those pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters were shiny and rattley and meant for me. Spare change scooped from his pocket every night with the nonchalant precision of a soda jerk digging out a double scoop of Fudge Ripple. Once in a while a real Indian Head nickel or a steel penny, still in circulation then, would be blended into the handful, a curious and alluring whisper from his past.

What was he doing? Building, of course. Little by little, my Grandpa was building a Tower of Nickels and Dimes for me, his tiny F. W. Woolworth. Coins for my bank. Coins for my future.

ONE THIN DIME: 1966

Morning Kindergarten or afternoon, it didn’t matter. The rule was the same. You came to school with a nickel and that nickel was for one thing only. Put your nickel in the slot, twist the dial and a perfect little pint would tumble into your hand. The Milk Machine. No one ever drank white milk when there was chocolate available. Everyone drank straight from the carton.

But on the days where my mother was out of nickels and only had a dime to give me? Well there really was no choice.

I would buy a ten-cent Eskimo Pie from the Good Humor Man at the corner instead and eat it on the way to school.

I’m sure no one ever knew.

ALLOWANCE: 1967

We worked all week. Toys in the toy box. Books on the shelf. All the paper napkins folded into triangles. Back and forth from the table to the sink, plate after plate after plate. Don’t forget: use two hands!

We worked all week. We waited all week.

And on Fridays we each earned a dime.

I saved them all. Collect ten for a trade with Dad for a real grown up dollar bill.

Work and save and work and save. All my dimes together bought my own Incredible Edible set. Now that I earned my own money I could even make my own food. Life was good.

HALF DOLLARS: 1972

Full of a good dinner, surrounded by those he loved best, my nattily dressed Grandpa Nate would lean back in his chair and smile.

We knew what was coming. So did he. With a sign to my grandmother a bag was procured from who knows where and it’s contents spilled out on the tablecloth.

A king’s ransom! A pirate’s bounty! A rich man’s loot!

All for us! All for us! All for us! The coins were heavy and impressive and our heads swam with the possibilities of it all! Piles of Franklin half-dollars all there for the taking. So much money. We could buy anything in the world!

But alas! Euphoria is short lived. The coins were to be treasured and to be saved, but never to be spent.

We sadly concluded that being rich has its burdens.

2-DOLLAR BILLS: 1981

If you go there, you’d better know how to order. Get in line; grab a tray and pay attention! Hey you! Do you want French fries, onion rings or fried broccoli? For your burger, double, triple, quad or quint? Your bun? Kaiser, onion, plain or WHAT? Want mushrooms, grilled onion, pickles or peppers? Order it now or forever hold your peace! And if you decide on condiments only say what you want, not what you don’t want. DO NOT MESS THIS UP!

If you follow the above rules exactly, Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger will give you the best burger on the planet. And in keeping with their Krazy ways they will often fork over a $2 bill for your change. You’d better know what to do with it! Cherish it.

PENNIES ON STREET: Always

I seem to spot them everywhere.

On the sidewalks and the side streets. Dug out of the corners of car and of the couch. They gleam at me. Heads up or heads down. I scoop them up and I save them. I squint for the dates and wonder about how many fingers have touched them, how they were lost, how much further will they travel? Little silver and copper time capsules! And they jingle in my pockets.

Is it lucky to find a penny or a coin? You tell me.

Perhaps it’s just as lucky to spot a dandelion about to curl open to the sun, lucky to notice a person who took the time to hold the door, lucky to discern meaning from the lines of a poem.

But it’s so much harder to hold those things in your hands, to jingle them in your pockets.

So I save all the coins I find, knotted into handkerchiefs in my drawers, zipped tight into a special pocket in my jacket, sometimes clutched in my fists.

I save them because I have a plan. Someday for someone I’ll dig deep into my pockets and scoop out a handful of coins. . From my fingers will come a waterfall of coins clattering and clinking and plunking. I’ll be building someone their own little Tower of Nickels and Dimes.

 

 

ON THE EDGE OF THE KNOWN WORLD: 1972

IMG_1045If you wanted it—and I mean really wanted it—there were rules to follow. You had to be willing to shoehorn yourself out of your top bunk in the black licorice dark of night. You had to be brave enough to survive the seemingly bottomless drop to the carpet if your groping foot somehow missed the ladder again. You had to have the conjuring abilities of Houdini escaping a straightjacket to be able to in fling your nightgown off and your sweatshirt on in one single fluid motion.

I was so good at this!  But I should have been. I did this every single Sunday morning.

I made my way downstairs. The walls of the house seemed almost to breathe with a steady rise and fall to the gentle rhythm of everyone sleeping.

My mother was already waiting in the kitchen. She’d beaten me downstairs again. I come from a proud line of light sleepers, early risers. Plus she knew how to be quiet. My mother could get out the door without a squeak of her shoe or a jangle of her keys. She motioned for me to follow and I did.

Buckled into the Delta 88 we were on our way. If we got to the bakery early enough—and we almost always did–the bagels would be hot out of the oven. These were Detroit bagels, small and a little sweet and really pretty good. Better still were the onion rolls, the round flaky ones and the square ones that were called New Yorkers. A perfect silver rectangle of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Sometimes we added an incredibly valuable pink packet: prepackaged lox, yearned for mouthfuls to be carefully divided and dolled out only in slivers. Once in a great while we’d get my very favorite, a whole chunk of sable.

Greedy little thing that I was, greedy little thing that I am, I wanted more. I always did.

My mother got that for me too. Three inches thick and an all day read: The Sunday New York Times. Pages and pages of jazzy, neon blitzed sophistication and elegance. I couldn’t believe that it miraculously appeared where I lived; on what I was sure was the edge of the known world, the suburbs of Detroit. Hot off the presses, the world and all it’s possibilities, now lay in my lap. Along with hot bagels in a crackling brown bag.

If there was a straight route home we never took it. Instead we meandered, driving slowly through the sleepy, tree lined streets of Birmingham. It was much too early for anyone to be out. The trim houses were Tudor or brick or ranch and contained by sidewalks. They were all different but uniformly tidy, with yards that were so manicured they appeared to have been combed out and then precisely hand-edged with nail scissors. Through the open windows, even the breeze felt just right.

As we drove slowly, yearningly past I could almost imagine each perfect house tied up with a bow. Unmade beds, messy closets, dishes in the sink an unimaginable impossibility. Did they read The New York Times? Did they live The New York Times?

Someday in Times Square I’d pluck newly folded copy of the Sunday Times right from a newsstand’s big stack. It was Saturday night but I’d already be living Sunday.

Someday, in a doorman building on Riverside Drive, piles and piles of Sunday papers would teeter in unread towers as night gowned and exhausted, I double fed infant twins.

Someday I swore I’d finish reading an article or maybe two—just as soon as I got back from a pick up or a drop off. Just as soon dinner was made and the laundry folded. I swear.

Someday Sunday mornings would again be very quiet. Three inches thick and an all day read.

The sun was coming up. We drove home. Everyone else was waking up. We were home once again to the happy cacophony of TV and spilled dog food and unmatched pajamas. But we had hot bagels. And we also had the delicious possibility of The Sunday New York Times.

Thanks, Mom.